TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami / NSF) – As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Florida, the White House announced on Wednesday that nursing homes that depend on Medicaid and Medicare funding must demand that members of their staff get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The announcement will have a ripple effect across Florida, which has nearly 700 nursing homes. Groups defending the interests of the elderly had already sounded the alarm bells about low vaccination rates among nursing home workers.
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The mandate is expected to apply to more than 15,000 nursing homes nationwide and is being pushed by the Biden administration as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has caused an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The regulations will be released in September, according to a “backgrounder” the White House distributed on Wednesday.
Tom Parker, reimbursement director for the Florida Health Care Association, said Florida nursing homes rely heavily on Medicaid and Medicare to pay for resident care.
Parker called Medicaid a “core” source of funding for nursing homes in the state, saying it averages about 51% of a facility’s funding. Medicaid is jointly funded by state and federal governments and covers the health care costs of low-income residents, many seniors, and people with disabilities.
Parker said Medicare, which is administered solely by the federal government, accounts for an additional 30 percent of Florida nursing home income. The remaining 19 percent, Parker said, comes from private insurance, the US Department of Veterans Affairs and people who pay out of pocket.
As a result, the vaccination mandate will have a significant impact in Florida. Not only are providers dependent on federal funding, but Florida nursing homes had the second lowest percentage of workers vaccinated in the country for a four-week period in June and July, according to an AARP analysis released last week.
Florida nursing homes reported data showing that an average of 45.1% of workers were vaccinated during the period June 20 to July 18. Only Louisiana had lower vaccination rates.
The AARP analysis also showed that only 5.2 percent of the 691 licensed nursing homes in Florida reported that 75 percent or more of their staff had been vaccinated. It was the lowest percentage of nursing homes reporting vaccination rates of 75 percent in the country.
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Governor Ron DeSantis has been adamant in his opposition to warrants during the COVID-19 pandemic. DeSantis said this month that it does not support hospitals requiring staff members to be vaccinated. The governor has also sought to prevent schools from forcing students to wear masks and has taken a cruise line passenger in court for trying to require passengers to show proof of vaccination.
But as vaccines became available at the end of last year, DeSantis has also focused heavily on vaccinating the elderly, including residents of nursing homes. COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, and outbreaks in nursing homes have claimed thousands of lives.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the News Service of Florida on the Biden administration’s mandate to vaccinate nursing home staff.
News of the warrant came after the state reported 23,335 new COVID-19 infections and eight more deaths on Tuesday. Nationwide, 141,893 new infections and 822 deaths have been reported for the day.
Florida also reported that 17,096 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide and occupied more than 31% of inpatient beds.
The Florida Health Care Association, which represents approximately 560 nursing homes, will review federal staff immunization regulations when they become available, association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said in a statement to the news service.
“In the meantime, we continue to support our members as they work to increase vaccination rates among staff because we know the vaccine is one of the safest ways to protect against the virus,” said Knapp.
LeadingAge Florida, another long-term care association, was also waiting Wednesday to see additional details of the mandate. But Nick Van Der Linden, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement to the News Service that the association “has always strongly supported vaccinations for all residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Our members have evolved in this direction on their own, and we have seen an increase in the number of vendors who now have mandates in place. “
The Biden administration also announced Wednesday that it will make the recalls available to the public starting the week of September 20. The plan is to make the boosters available so that people can receive them eight months after receiving the second doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. .
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